Which Word Wednesday: Home vs. Hone

By October 19, 2011 language No Comments

Ignorance truly is bliss when it comes to word dilemmas. People who aren’t aware of the potential pitfalls speak freely, without fear of misuse. But I am aware (most of the time) and that awareness erodes my bliss when I can’t remember which word to use.

Recently, my bliss turned to utter internal distraction when a speaker used the phrase “home in” to describe the process of distilling information to the core elements. I couldn’t remember if the correct word was home or hone. I knew there was a difference, but I couldn’t remember what it was. That started a distracting undercurrent in my brain as I tried to figure it out. Eventually, I had to put it aside and wait for Which Word Wednesday so I could focus on the conversation at hand.

Let’s look to the Oxford American Dictionary for the definitions:

home :: verb
(of an animal) return by instinct to its territory after leaving it; (home in on) move or be aimed toward (a target or destination) with great accuracy.

hone :: verb
(usu. be honed) make sharper or more focused or efficient.

When you want to communicate a returning or an aiming process, home is the verb you want. When you want to communicate a sharpening focus, hone is correct.

Makes sense . . . but how can we remember the difference for quick and proper application? That’s typically my problem—all of it makes sense here on page; it’s the need for speed when speaking that trips me up.

It looks like home refers more to a direction of movement and focus. Think of homing pigeons, circling about their target for landing. They are homing in on their landing pad.

When sharpening your skills, you are honing them—you are focusing upon them to strengthen them.

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What’s my WWW verdict? I think these words are easily confused because honing is a lost art. (Think about it: When is the last time you saw a whetstone?)

What’s your verdict? Do you use home and hone interchangeably? Have you ever worked with homing pigeons or whetstones? Cast your vote and share your thoughts in the comments.

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Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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